An Easy Way to Deal With Frozen Pipes

By giving frozen pipes a dose of heat treatment, the Arctic Blaster boosts customer service for Canadian plumbing company.

An Easy Way to Deal With Frozen Pipes

Bruce Hunter, a plumber for 12 years at P & J Plumbing & Heating in Kamsack, Saskatchewan, stands near his service vehicle and an Arctic Blaster from Arctic Blasters. The Arctic Blaster is basically a water-boiling unit that heats water with a lit propane torch to create steam, which can then be led into a frozen pipe to thaw it. (Photo courtesy of P&J Plumbing)

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Winters in Saskatchewan can be brutally cold. How brutal? Think 40-degrees-below-zero cold — and possibly worse with a wind chill factor. As such, frozen sewer pipes and other pipelines keep plumbers like Bruce Hunter, a technician at P & J Plumbing & Heating, busy during wintertime.

In fact, during severe cold snaps, it’s not unusual for Hunter to do nothing else but thaw out pipelines every day for a week or more at a time. His secret weapon for achieving that kind of productivity? The Arctic Blaster, made by Alberta-based Arctic Blasters, that uses steam to quickly melt ice.

“It’s easy to use and easy to move around,” says Hunter, who’s been a plumber for 12 years at P & J Plumbing & Heating, owned by Dwayne Andrychuk and Bruce David. Established in 1988, the company employs 14 people and is based in Kamsack, a small town in southeastern Saskatchewan, about 240 miles north of the United States/Canadian border in North Dakota. “It also has a built-in handle and legs, so it’s very easy to carry and very stable. And it does a very good job of quickly thawing out pipes.”

The Arctic Blaster weighs about 70 pounds and measures 16 inches long by 7 inches wide and 11 inches tall. It’s basically a water-boiling unit that heats water with a lit propane torch. The propane torch and tank must be bought separately.

OPERATING THE BLASTER

To use it, first fill the unit with about 2 gallons of water; that’s enough to produce about 15 minutes of steam. Then attach one of the two single-braid hydraulic hoses that come with the device: a 3/8-inch-diameter hose designed for thawing larger-diameter pipes and a 1/4-inch-diameter hose for smaller-diameter pipes. Both include a quick-coupler connection and are rated for up to 3,000 psi.

Next, light the torch and place it inside the unit’s fire tube on the rear of the machine. Then wait until steam comes out of the end of the hose, which indicates the device is ready to go to work. It generally takes about 5 to 8 minutes to heat the water to the point that it creates steam, Hunter says.

To start thawing, insert the hose into the frozen pipe. But be careful; the hose emits scalding-hot steam. For safety, the unit features a 16 psi pressure cap atop the water-tank portion. “If the pressure builds up too high, a valve pops — very similar to a car radiator,” Hunter says.

It doesn’t take long to develop a feel for the thawing process. “You just kind of feel your way through the pipe until the hose dead ends (into the ice), then you keep advancing it into the ice as it melts,” he says.

It’s difficult to say how fast the Arctic Blaster will thaw out a pipe because of variables such as the length of the blockage and the diameter of the pipe. But a demonstration video on the Arctic Blaster website shows the unit thawing a 4-foot-section of completely frozen, 3/4-inch-diameter copper pipe in about 2 minutes. The same video shows the unit thawing a 4-foot-long section of completely frozen, 4-inch-diameter PVC pipe in about 10 minutes.

A DURABLE GREEN MACHINE

The Arctic Blaster offers several benefits compared to other thawing techniques. For starters, it runs on clean-burning propane fuel, no electricity required, which eliminates the need to hunt for electrical outlets on job sites. It also doesn’t use countless gallons of water, like a water jetter, creating less of a mess. Moreover, the unit’s portability makes it easy to take into even hard-to-access areas.

Aside from the green, eco-friendly aspects, the Arctic Blaster is also durable. “Last winter, I basically spent one week steaming pipes for eight hours a day,” Hunter says. “It requires no maintenance, and it’s never broken down.”

The unit is also capable of handling extreme cases of frozen pipelines. Hunter recalls a day-care center where 30 or so feet of a 3-inch-diameter sewer main was frozen solid. “First I steamed the pipe through a clean-out, located down below in a crawl space,” he recalls. “Then I went to a ground-floor bathroom, removed the toilet and steamed the line from up there. It took nearly a whole day, but I thawed out the line. It was a great test for the machine.”

Hunter has a few operating suggestions, such as keeping the steam hose in the heated cab of a vehicle, so it doesn’t freeze, and always completely dumping out any water left in the unit when a job is completed. Also, the torch should not be used inside a building, he adds.

Overall, the Arctic Blaster is a valuable, maintenance-free machine that helps boost the company’s customer service. “In the kind of winter weather we have, it’s definitely a good tool to have,” Hunter says. “We get a lot of work because of it.”  

For more information, visit www.arcticblaster.com or send an email to delsgal@live.com. To order an Arctic Blaster, call 403-638-3934.



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